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Testifying before a congressional subcommittee yesterday, Roger Mix, a San Luis Valley farmer, said that full access to the Mexican potato market would triple the value of exports south of the border to $150 million. U.S. potato shipments to Mexico are currently limited to within about 16 miles of the border and often face non-scientific plant safety and pest regulations. Mix’s testimony before the house subcommittee on small business comes as U.S. trade and agricultural officials are negotiating with Mexico over its entry into the trans-pacific partnership, a trade alliance that includes the U.S. and 8 Latin American and Asian countries. SLV potato farmers, who bring in a crop worth roughly $200 million per year, hope the negotiations will persuade Mexico to open up its market. Mix testified that Mexico has unjustifiably raised issue with pests and viruses in U.S. shipments even though potatoes raised in areas of Mexico with similar problems are freely shipped around the country. The hearings come just weeks after the White House opened up a mandatory three-month consultation period with congress over the negotiations.

The Alamosa County Commissioners have given White Rock Specialist, LLC, approval to move forward with its potato packaging and processing plant in Mosca. Commissioners granted a zoning amendment for the old Sangre De Cristo High School at their meeting this week. The 21-acre property, located at 5404 Terry Street, was zoned residential to manufactured home, and it is now designated rural. White Rock Specialist, LLC, has secured a $1.8 million USDA-backed business and industry loan to help transform the vacant building into a state-of-the-art fresh market potato processing and packaging plant. The new facility, which was purchased from the Sangre De Cristo School District for $150,000, will allow the partners to invite other producers into their packaging operations. The zoning amendment passed unanimously after both planning and zoning and county commissioners held public hearings with no objections.

The Rio Grande Water Conservation District has applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a habitat conservation plan that would protect the willow thickets and riparian areas favored by the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, which is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. This week, a draft study was released on a plan to protect the rare birds in the San Luis Valley, while also preserving farming and ranching practices. The plan, if approved, would allow farmers and ranchers to continue traditional activities without being subject to the criminal or civil penalties they otherwise might face under the act.

New Hope Community Church in Walsenburg will hold a “Backyard Bible Club” for 1st through 5th graders next Monday through Friday, July 30th through August 3rd. The bible club is free and will include bible stories, snacks, crafts and music. New Hope Community Church is located at 801 Pennsylvania Avenue in Walsenburg. For more information, call 719-350-0853.

Meet botanical illustrator Roberta Lutgens tonight at the Trinidad History Museum and Gardens at 312 East Main Street, from 5 to 8pm. There will also be a drum circle and rain dance and kid’s garden sculptures and fun for the whole family. For more information, call the Trinidad History Museum at 719-846-7217. Free events are part of the “Last Friday Art Trek”.